The Letter – Kathryn Hughes

This was one of the “3 for £5 ” books I got the other day. It appears to have been printed on the strength of high e-book sales – many of them are quoted in the opening pages and I have to say that they aren’t entirely misguided in their enthusiasm.  It is not a bad book at all and takes serious subjects seriously – domestic abuse, the Magdalen laundries.  The story flows swiftly and is well structured and there are shades of Maeve Binchy however it lacks Binchy’s  lively characterisation and compassionate humanity. The people in “The letter” are more situations than characters and while empathising with their plights in some cases I never found myself really caring what happened to them. There is also perhaps a little too much coincidence and I think the last scene was an unnecessary mistake. No need to tie up every last end and it just seemed spiteful.

More nostalgia – Pony Club bliss

Last week I stayed with my aunt and retrieved  a couple of bags of random stuff that hadn’t made it into storage for various reasons. So alongside the sheets that needed washing, some clothing that I wanted to hand but seemed too summery when it was threatening snow and other bits and bobs that got overlooked was an extremely battered copy of Josephine Pullein-Thompson’s “One Day Event” the penultimate volume in the West Barset Pony Club series. I rather fear the  others were abandoned in the loft but Amazon is looking hopeful and I console myself with newly acquired knowledge that the Armada paperbacks were edited.

As you may have gathered, the experience was joyful.  They are period pieces but they are funny and informative and I remembered lots even after so many years…  One of the bonuses of this series which it shares with the other favourite series from childhood, Antonia Forest’s Marlow’s series, is that JP-T allows her characters to age.  This apparently displeased the publishers which is why the series did not continue however it makes them so much more readable as an adult.  I was ridiculously delighted to learn that JP-T informed enquiring readers that Noel and Henry did eventually marry despite Henry falling for a German dressage rider.

Actually nostalgia IS what it used to be….

Maybe it is a reaction to the loss of my childhood home or maybe it is a coincidence but  I have been indulging in a certain amount of nostalgia lately. Having put most of my possessions into storage most of my reading until the last couple of weeks had been either borrowed or picked up in charity shops (I don’t have a functioning e-reader just now),  There were a few exceptions which I hope to get to write up at some point – the wonderful “Notes from an Exhibition” by Patrick Gale and “Elizabeth is missing” by Emma Healey but there has been a heap of frothy, forgettable chicklit that probably isn’t worth remembering.

However, captivated by the covers (think old school railway posters) I picked up a couple of the British Library collection of vintage crime fiction, then got a reduced Nikki French with a paper, I then went to London and bought a couple more contemporary books at the station and todant to  a discount store and bought, amongst other things, a set of Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers series.

They are a hoot with modern eyes, though rather oddly the money but nothing else has been updated which is a bit weird.  Apart from the distrust of foreigners, their strange accents and funny ways there are gems such as “Alicia didn’t see why she should give up Darell’s  companionship completely just because Sally had come back. Why not a threesome until Betty returns?”

I intend to talk more about the vintage crime novels when I have finished the book on forensic by Val McDermid (one of the other recent puchases.  however they do have some things in common with the Blytons in the attitudes to foreigners, women though the Hey is perhaps rather more tongue in cheek.  Nevertheless it is less substantial than Sayers’ Gaudy Night published the same year.

Thoughts of both books were with me when I visited Oxford for the first time in ages last week. There is a certain pleasure, which I experienced also when reading two of Graham Hurley’s Faraday’s novels last year, in reading books well located in a familiar place.  And then I walked down Pembroke Street and found a reminder of my favourite literary landscape, but the Story Museum was closed and, though I uttered password with far less hesitation than  Gandalf, the doors remained shut,

Forever Rupert

Well I have been staying with lovely friends near Rugby which happens to be the birthplace of one of my longest standing litereray loves  Rupert Brooke.  There is a relatively recent statue to him in a lovely part of the town,  I am not overly keen. It is rather camp even allowing for the fact that he was a bisexual poet.  Nevertheless I laid flowers on it for his anniversary. Someone else had left a red rose. The main commemorations seem to have taken place at Cambridge and on Skyros.

Well …

I didn’t achieve my goal and I am blaming moving for that but I did read some interesting books and a wider range than I might otherwise have done. I haven’t stopped reading but life has been eventful and nomadic lately. I have also been doing other things such as resuming knitting and family history.

Heft – by Liz Moore

This ought to be a depressing book. The protagonists are an ex-academic as much a prisoner of his mind as his vastly overweight body, a pregnant teenager and another in imminent danger of going definitively off the rails and his drunk mother the catalyst we only really see through other eyes. It is a story of broken and dysfunctional families, failure, lost hopes and isolation. Yet it is ultimately hopeful. A case of getting what you need perhaps not what you want.

The characters are vividly written and despite their frailties sympathetic and psychologically believable even if the circumstances are a little contrived. The writing is good and the story rattles along ending almost too soon, though enough hints are given of the future to satisfy.

The only niggly critiscism is that especially when the narrator is Arthur, the ampersand is used in place of “and” in full, but not consistently. If there is a purpose to this, it is a distinction too subtle for me – I merely found it irritating and a distraction from an absorbing and thoughtful novel.

Oh this is dreadful….

My last post in September and November nearly out? Well I have been working and the house sale is finally happening to complete in the new year so I do have some excuse – especially as at time of writing I haven’t found anywhere to buy.

I have read a little…. though perhaps nothing much to write home about. I had to read Stoner for book group and was hugely disappointed. It is possible I would have liked it better had it been about a dopehead written by the guitarist: it would have been hard to like it less. Goodness knows macho can be too mucho but never have I been more tempted to use the phrase “grow a pair” in response to the protagonist’s relentless, almost cowardly passivity. Some admired his stoicism but when the casualties included his daughter as well as himself it was unforgivable let alone admirable. If that truly “the best book you have never read” I could rest easy knowing I wasn’t missing much. Dreary, depressing and turgid.

Doing better with the reading than the writing up…

My pile of unread books is reducing but my list of write ups increases proportionately. Since my last post I have read The Book thief, The ninth life of Louis Drax, a very disappointing Tolkien biography, Bring up the Bodies and Dominion.

Louis Drax may not really count as I have read it before but could remember virtually nothing about it save that I enjoyed it. Anyway.. will update my list and try to come up with some thoughts..

If I were a horse, there would be a stewards enquiry…

I have read five books since the last post and have made a small dent in my “bought not read pile”. It is amazing how much you can get through when they weather is bad and you have no internet connection…

I am still a way off a book a week but I am not far off the fifty pages a day quota. By now I should have read 35 books or 12,250 pages. I have only got to 27 books but I have read 11,256 pages. If I counted the genealogy book, Dad’s war diaries and the two “fastbacks” I had to take back before I finished them I would be about there… also am a hundred or so pages into “The Book thief”.

I am assured that this is read, if not commented on so I may try to catch up. I haven’t hated any off them. Not even “The Blind Assassin” which I have struggled to get into for years but I haven’t really loved any either. Not even the David Sedaris who I have loved on the radio but not really read before. It is clever and funny but I think it does work better read aloud with his impeccable timing and tone… and nothing in this is perhaps as howlingly funny as “Jesus shaves”.

reads for a year